How to Find the Right Solution to Automate Accounts Payable for Your Small-to-Midsize Business

How many suppliers does your accounts payable (AP) department pay? Have you checked recently how many checks your AP department has written in the past year? Have you ever totaled up how much time and effort goes into this lower-value process each year – or estimated the cost of this effort to your business?

The numbers might surprise you – if you’re a small to midsize business (SMB) still using a manual (or partially manual) AP process.

According to AMI-Partners, the typical SMB works with 190 suppliers and vendors.[1] If you write those vendors just one check a month, that’s 2,280 checks annually. No wonder 42% of SMBs surveyed say they’ve experienced errors reconciling invoices.[2] And on average, accounting or finance staff spend 14% of their time each week processing invoices – more than five hours per accounting or finance employee per week.[3]

Accounts Payable Automation: A Buyer’s Guide

Get expert advice about how to build a successful business case for investing in expense automation.   

Drivers of change

As your business grows, expect to work with larger ecosystems of partners and suppliers that will increase AP workloads – and costs – exponentially. Are you prepared to hire more people to support this noncore process?

Unless you automate, you might not have a choice. And the benefits of automation address other drivers of change as well. For example, to compete, SMBs are being compelled to align their invoice process with the larger goals of reducing expenses, increasing efficiency, improving productivity, and even digitally transforming parts of the business. This will require eliminating manual processes, which are inherently cumbersome, inefficient, and laborious.

Manual AP processes also make it difficult to monitor spending trends and behaviors and detect potential mistakes or fraud – which ultimately leads to cash flow problems. For SMBs, cash flow is everything. Visibility into cash flow is essential to operationalizing a payment strategy in which bills are paid on time, payment rebates are used to free up more working capital, and you improve your company’s purchasing power.

Choosing the right automated solution

The challenge, of course, is figuring out what cloud solution to use. (And the cloud is perfect for SMBs because software is delivered over the Internet as a service, so it’s easy to deploy, affordable with pay-for-what-you-use pricing, and requires no on-site IT management.) While functional needs will vary in some areas, there are core AP automation capabilities that every business needs – specifically, the ability to:

  • Automate AP processes to ensure financial visibility, avoid risk, drive operational efficiencies, and increase data accuracy and timeliness
  • Get visibility into employee-initiated spending (so you can “see around the corner”), track processes and spend, and identify revenue and saving opportunities
  • Consolidate spend from invoices to make forward-looking, real-time strategic decisions
  • Expand when you’re ready to connect the dots across all employee spending – for example, by making it easy to add integrated solutions for travel, budgeting, and more so you can proactively manage all employee spending

To achieve this, you’ll want to look for specific capabilities in your solution. For example:

  • To maximize returns, your goal should be complete automation that takes your AP process totally paperless. This requires a solution that gives you flexible ways to automatically capture and bring all invoices into the system electronically and support all approvals-related communications in the tool, not e-mail.
  • Look for a solution that helps you capture and pay money owed to suppliers – not an accounts receivable solution that issues invoices to collect money owed, as that’s a separate finance process. The software should automate the entire invoice management process from purchase request to payment and provide full visibility and control at every step.
  • Choose a solution that includes standard, predefined reports and built-in tools for keeping track of key metrics. Ready-to-use, instant reporting capabilities deliver rapid ROI (in terms of time and effort saved), as well as a real-time, accurate view of payables; this enables finance to establish and track key metrics, continuously improve AP performance, and make more-informed payment decisions to optimize company cash flow.
  • Most AP automation solutions support mobile devices – but not all deliver their own mobile AP applications. Make sure your solution offers mobile apps for iOS and Android. By giving people mobile access to your AP automation solution, even remote workers, field staff, and frequent travelers can stay connected and engaged in the AP process.

These are just a few high-priority capabilities you’ll want to look for as you evaluate your software options. To learn more – and get expert advice about how to build a successful business case for investing in expense automation – download “Accounts Payable Automation: A Buyer’s Guide” from SAP Concur.


[1] Joseph Bertran, “Elevate Business Performance and Better Manage Spend with Automation,” AMI-Partners study sponsored by SAP, 2018.

[2]  Joshua Sophy, “84 Percent of Small Businesses Rely on a Manual Process,” Small Business Trends, April 4, 2017.

[3] Joseph Bertran, “Elevate Business Performance and Better Manage Spend with Automation,” AMI-Partners study sponsored by SAP, 2018.

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